TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Fighting organized crime remains Albania's biggest and most difficult challenge, the U.S. Ambassador to the country said Monday.
Speaking at the Magistrates School that annually produces a small number of judges and prosecutors, Donald Lu said that "until the big fish are arrested, prosecuted and go to jail, the cannabis will return, judges will be bribed, and government officials will be corrupted."
"We believe it is time for the government of Albania to declare war on organized crime," Lu said.
Based on U.S. State Department reports, the ambassador said Albania was a center of organized-crime activity, which includes trafficking in drugs, weapons, and prostitution.
Lu said "four major clans control 20 crime families that manage criminal operations that include human trafficking, blackmail, car theft and money laundering," he said.
But Albania's criminal leaders are seldom arrested and almost never prosecuted.
Fighting organized crime, illegal drugs and trafficking of weapons and people have been among the international community's concerns for post-communist Albania, which is expecting to start membership negotiations with the European Union next year.
Last year the parliament passed legal reforms that will restructure Albania's flawed justice system to ensure that judges and prosecutors are independent from politics, and to root out bribery.
Judicial and prosecutorial vetting of the personal and professional backgrounds of judges and prosecutors begins next week.
Both the U.S. and the EU have been directly involved in drafting the reform package, and a group of experts will directly monitor its application in Albania.
Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lsemini